All the recent rains have not only made me a grumpus (stuck indoors), but turned the whole world bright green, as though Earth — or at least our bioregion — were reliving its springtime youth in a flashback. It was actually rather difficult to decide what to post for today’s G is for Green entry in Capturing Beauty‘s Rainbow Challenge, which I’ve been unofficially following during part of the month of September.
This plant, however, is always this gorgeous lime green. Meet Ipomoea batatas ‘Margarita’ (or ‘Marguerite,’ depending on the source, but frankly Margarita makes more sense to me), the chartreuse sweet potato vine. No, it doesn’t make sweet potatoes. But it grows like gangbusters. This was probably one of my first discoveries, years ago, of a no-fail landscape plant.
You really cannot screw up with ‘Margarita.’ I don’t see how. (Unless we’re talking about the alcoholic margarita, and I have no advice to give you there. If I were very wise, I’d say to try and be as respectful of your body as you are of the Earth when you choose to garden organically — and I’d do so myself. That would be a consistent way to live. However, I’m not always consistent. I sometimes suspect consistent = boring. And I enjoy girly frozen drinks.)
Anyway, back to our darling ‘Margarita,’ the vine: the only drawback is that it’s an annual. However, I bought one plant this year, and it has achieved a spread of nearly eight feet in a little over four months.
And I have discovered a wonderful use of this plant for the organic gardener. The bugs that like to gnaw leaves really go for these vines. Maybe they taste like the bug equivalent of sweet potatoes with melted butter and brown sugar. Who knows? I just noticed a few years back that nearly everywhere you see this plant, it’s been munched, even in places where they use the poisonous chemicals to try and create a plant-in-a-plastic-bubble wonderland. The bugs still come.
Last year, when I was limited to pots on a terrace with a view of the skyscrapers of Atlanta for my vegetable gardening (it can be done!), I planted one of these, and realized that the bugs would go for the sweet potato vine in preference to anything else nearby. Even the June bugs chewed on it as opposed to, say, my little lettuces.
And even with bite holes all through the leaves, this plant is still gorgeous, and it’s usually seen from a distance anyway, since it’s used as a landscape focal point for the most part. (Those big, shockingly lime exclamation points in the concrete mega-planters in front of malls are often filled with a couple of these tough beauties and something else for contrast up close. Red begonias and dramatic coleus with chartreuse accents seem to be favorite, easygoing pairings.)
So with all this in mind, I used it as a trap plant this year. Worked like a charm. In July, it was getting eaten alive — but my nearby trellised cucumbers had bite-free leaves, not a single pickleworm larvae in the cukes, and the tomato plant and zucchini were completely untouched for most of the season. The nasturtiums did get a few little pinholes. (I hardly mind this; I find it picturesque.)
Now, I’ve never seen this use of the sweet potato vine recommended by an organic gardener. My guess is they’re usually planting large fields of trap crops, and this plant would be a little expensive for the purpose. But for a home gardener with a small kitchen garden, it’s perfect. I’ve planted it in a big container near our front door, paired with a tall lantana, and they look lovely together.
The lantana attracted — and continues to attract — ruby-throated hummingbirds, and the sweet potato vine protected all our nearby produce while looking bright and pretty to guests and neighbors approaching the house or anyone just passing by on our little one-way lane.
I like that combination of looks and practicality. Worth a $3 investment any day.